“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really -- I was alive.”
Halfway through “Felina” Walter White finally tells his estranged wife the truth. In fact, for the first time throughout the entire run of “Breaking Bad,” Walt is completely emotionally honest. Throughout the show, Walt has used a series of convenient lies to keep the truth away from everyone, even himself. For years, he told himself that there was a good reason for all his misdeeds, that in the end, they would wash out because he was providing for his family.
After last week’s “Granite State,” however, Walt couldn’t keep lying to himself anymore. Speaking to his son on the phone for the first time in months, he realized exactly how much he had ruined his family. His son was disgusted to even speak to him, horrified at the idea of ever taking his drug money. In that moment, Walt could no longer keep lying to himself. If he did everything for his family, why did he only push them further away in the end, he must have thought. Walt had to truly face the facts that he had ruined everything.
Oddly enough, after Walt hung up that phone last week, I did something I thought would never happen again: I felt truly sorry for Walt. Throughout “Felina,” that feeling just kept growing, and I started to root for Walter White one last time, not as a hero, but as a flawed man trying desperately to right a wrong. No matter what, his efforts would never be enough to undo all of the wrong he caused, but in “Felina,” Walt tries to patch that damage.
I started losing sympathy for Walter White somewhere in the second season. As he became more accustomed to the criminal world, Walt increasingly slipped away into his brutal, vengeful Heisenberg persona. By the time he let Jane die, I was horrified with what Walt had become. It goes without saying that things only got worse from there.
As the show carried on, it became obvious that Walt desperately felt the universe owed him something. It owed him for being a genius, owed him for Grey Matter, owed him for all those disappointing years teaching chemistry. In “Felina,” though, Walt finally pays back some of the debts he owes to his loved ones (and his enemies).
And in true Walter White fashion, he delivered on those debts perfectly. He managed to entrust some $9 million to Walt Jr., though it’s likely that he’ll never realize that money came from his father. He finally managed to one-up his former business partners, Elliot and Gretchen (with the help of Badger and Skinny Pete, the two deadliest assassins west of the Mississippi). He even managed to gain some level of closure with Skyler and Holly before he embarked on his mission of revenge.
What a mission of revenge it was, also. “Felina’s” bittersweet ending didn’t leave us with too many happy moments, but when Walt set off his jerry-rigged M60 on Uncle Jack and the Nazis, I couldn’t help but cheer for our megalomaniacal anti-hero. After all, if anyone deserves to die on this show, it’s the neo-Nazi who killed Hank Schrader. Thankfully, Jesse got his time to shine as well. After being ignored for much of “Felina,” we finally see Jesse in the last 15 minutes looking the worst he’s ever been. Things couldn’t possibly get much lower for Jesse.
Interestingly enough, “Felina” is never quite clear on what Walt intended to do with Jesse. I imagine that when he heard Charlie Rose say that the blue meth was still out there, he assumed Jesse was in league with the Nazis, attempting to erase his legacy as the greatest methamphetamine cook of all. When Walt abandoned the watch Jesse gave him earlier in the season, I was absolutely sure that he intended to kill Jesse alongside the Nazis. But he didn’t. Maybe Walt changed his mind when he saw Jesse in chains, or maybe he simply realized how much he had harmed his former protege. Either way, he throws Jesse down, taking a bullet in the gut, but allowing Jesse to have his revenge on Todd, one of the show’s most evil characters.
Even in death, Todd is beyond creepy. He shows almost no emotion at seeing his uncle and associates gunned down by Walt. In fact, he seems more fascinated with and respectful of “Mr. White’s” robotic machine gun mount than anything else. But in one of the most heartwarming fictional murders of all time, that doe-eyed psychopath finally gets what was coming, strangled by Jesse and his chains.
And like that, it’s over. For whatever reason, Jesse can’t bring himself to kill Walt. Maybe he just doesn’t have any more revenge, or maybe he pities Walt too much. The two go their separate ways, Jesse (hopefully) off to a new life very far away from the meth business, and Walt to Nazi’s meth lab, a symbol of the drug that started everything. He’s dying, surrounded by incoming cops, but he looks almost serene as he takes one last look at the equipment. Walt never was worth much as a husband, father or mentor, but he was always a hell of a chemist. After “Felina,” no one can take that away from him.
After the last shot of Walt dead on the meth lab floor, surrounded by his legacy and one true love, it might be tempting to say that he “won.” After all, Walt accomplished everything he set out to do returning from New Hampshire, and he did so with gusto. But it’s also obvious that Walt only “won” a game that he put into motion in the first place. All our favorite characters are better off now than they were at the beginning of the episode, but much worse than they were at the outset of the series.
Walt has, more or less, ruined the lives of everyone he has come into contact with, no matter what his final moments were like. Even though Walt gets a somewhat heroic ending, “Breaking Bad” never shies away from his criminal legacy and the damage he’s caused the world. It’s perfect sendoff for Walter White: brilliant, terrible and endlessly entertaining.
In the end, “Felina” was perfect. Or at least, it was close enough to perfect that it didn’t matter. Most surprisingly, there were no huge surprises. Sure, there was some uncertainty as the events played out (the developments with Elliot, Gretchen and $9 million were unexpected), but more or less, everything went down how we assumed it would. Walt comes back, shoots up Nazis, finally uses the ricin and dies in a bittersweet scene. Vince Gilligan didn’t go for a fake-out or a twist. Instead, he delivered the well-written, thematically resonant ending that a longrunning show like “Breaking Bad” deserved. More than anything else, it was satisfying.
I know, via Twitter, that some fans felt unhappy with the ending. Many wanted a final shocking twist, something unexpected that no one would have seen coming. Certainly, it would have been interesting for Marie to reappear and take Walt's life, but it would ultimately ring hollow for a show like "Breaking Bad."
Over the past decade or so, movies and television have increasingly focused on mysteries, twists and unexpected reveals. J.J. Abrams, for instance, is the poster boy for complicated, flashy plots and mysteries within mysteries. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but at it worst, media like this can become driven less by character or story than by a parade of shocking reveals one after another. Twists can be shocking and fun, but if they aren't properly set up, lack any real narrative power beyond that initial punch.
"Breaking Bad" never played that game. From the beginning, it's been a show deeply rooted in its characters and their decisions. More specifically, it's rooted in the moral decisions that Walter White takes throughout the series. Almost everything that happens on “Breaking Bad” comes as a result of a move Walt made beforehand. There are no grand conspiracies behind the scenes, just Walt and his choices. "Breaking Bad" wasn't afraid to play tease its from time to time, but it always remained focused on actions and their consequences, the chemical reactions that drove Walt's story home. In the end, that’s exactly what we’re left with: one man alone with the weight of his decisions.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. Godspeed, Walter White. You were a terrifying, murderous meth dealer, but we'll miss you all the same.